SAMUEL: One positive resulting from the pandemic


This stinking pandemic has caused numerous negatives for the world, the most obvious being 2.5 million deaths. We’ve lost 506,000 citizens in the United States and over 2,200 West Virginians. Add to that the loss of thousands of businesses (many gone forever), millions of jobs, schools closed, etc., etc. It would take a book to discuss all the negatives of this pandemic.

This week I spent two whole days on a virtual conference, the Southeast Deer Study Group meeting. It’s all about deer, and I’ll have future columns giving the latest on that, but Dr. Lindsey Davis from the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable presented some very interesting data in the Plenary Session.

The future of hunting and funding for wildlife management depends on hunters. However, for the past 20 years, we’ve seen a steady decline in the number of hunters, and a steady increase in the average age of hunters. In essence, hunting is dying out. How has the pandemic changed that?

The pandemic has caused millions of Americans to go outdoors. When you are outdoors doing various activities alone or with a small group of family or friends, you are relatively safe from the virus. Dr. Davis noted that in 2020 81 percent of Americans spent time outdoors and 32.5 percent of those were first-timers. For example, there were 7.9 million “new” campers. These are people who never camped before the pandemic. There were 10 million new anglers, 8.1 million new hikers. No data were given on new hunters, but we do know that hunting license sales increased in most states. For example, hunting license sales were up 39 percent in Utah.

Since the majority of citizens live in cities, and many in very large cities, many of the new campers, hikers, anglers, and other outdoor recreationists, probably came from large cities. All of this outdoor activity, especially from people who never participated in outdoor recreation before, can lead to new hunters.

Last spring when the pandemic was well underway, I wrote that I didn’t believe it would be a negative for hunting. In fact, I observed that spring turkey hunting was a great way to practice social distancing. Apparently, hunters agreed, because hunting was up a lot in 2020. From what Dr. Davis presented, fishing was up too.

Those of you who hike in our area, know that activity greatly increased in the past 12 months. That means that the sale of hiking shoes and boots was also up. Jogging is up too and that means lots of new running shoes. Biking is up and bike sales in June 2020 were 63 percent higher than June 2019. My guess is that summer bike sales jumped even more.

Kayaking, rafting, and canoeing were up, and in June 2020 sales of that equipment were up 56 percent compared to June of 2019. Golf equipment sales in June 2020 jumped 51 percent compared to June 2019, and camping equipment sales were up 36 percent. Lots of the tents sold were recreational as opposed to backpacking tents as people and families apparently “camped out” in the back yard. Anything to get outside.

Touring in RV’s was also up, and the number of RV’s I see every day on Interstate 68 and 70 seems higher to me. Just another way to get out of the house and be relatively safe.

June 2020 bird watching also increased and the sale of binoculars jumped 22 percent. I love it. Get the kids bird watching instead of sitting in front of small and big screens. Wellness outdoor activities have also increased and it’s great to see more people and more families living healthier lifestyles.

The outdoor recreation economy is huge in our country (estimated 787 billion in 2019), and it grew substantially since the pandemic. To put that figure in perspective, the outdoor recreation economy is bigger than mining and bigger than agriculture.

All of the above won’t make the restaurant and hotel owners and employees feel better, because they have suffered a great deal. But it’s nice to reflect on something good coming out of the past twelve months. Pray the Covid downturn continues, the vaccination rate increases, and pray the existing vaccines also work against the newly mutated viruses.